Here comes the tricky part of the ongoing sexual harassment/assault conversation engulfing the country right now. A pattern has been established, victims are being given recognition and lent the credibility they have long lacked and potential perpetrators have been identified. Now for the hard part: what do you do about it?
As far as those who have been accused thus far, we’ve got a serious mess on our hands as we’ve previously discussed here. Some of the accusations date back too far for any criminal complaint to make it to the courts. A few are more recent and law enforcement is looking into the charges. The older allegations may cost some people their jobs, but we’re also walking a tightrope in terms of convicting people in the court of public opinion without due process.
The big question seems to be how to stop this from happening in the future or at least severely reduce the number of assaults. What sort of proactive measures might be both legal and effective? I thought I might have come across someone with a possible solution when I saw this editorial at the Washington Post from Katrina Vanden Heuvel. She’s not historically a source for many “solutions” in my experience, but I was certainly willing to give her a listen. Unfortunately, true to form, Vanden Heuvel’s “plan” sounds suspiciously like the standard Democratic campaign platform being repurposed to a more noble cause. The author admirably chooses to focus on the plight of less famous women facing workplace harassment, such as restaurant servers and hotel maids, but the solutions being offered have a dubious connection to the problem at best. (Emphasis added)
Changes in the law and in institutional structures can make a difference. If waitresses were paid a living wage, they would be better able to object to harassment from customers. Workers with unions have more ability to object. In Chicago, the City Council just passed an ordinance requiring hotel employers to provide hotel workers who work alone in rooms with a portable “panic button” to summon help from hotel security. It also requires hotels to make public their anti-sexual harassment policies, affords hotel workers the right to stop work and leave a room if they feel threatened and prohibits hotel employers from retaliating against hotel workers who report sexual harassment or assault.
Congress can also show leadership by reforming itself. Recent House hearings shed light on the pervasive sexual harassment in what historically has been considered the congressional “boys club.” Concerned staff aides even developed a “creep list” to warn newcomers about legislators to be wary of. Congress has a broken “dispute resolution system” that requires any complainant to undergo 30 days of mandatory counseling and 30 days of mediation before being able to file a suit. And sexual harassment settlements are paid for with taxpayer money.
The second paragraph above isn’t bad, actually. Revealing the apparently ubiquitous “creep lists” in Congress and exposing all the members who defeated sexual harassment allegations using a taxpayer-financed slush fund are great ideas. But once again, that only covers the high-profile world of Washington.
It’s the first paragraph, where Vanden Heuvel proposes to help “the little guy” (or “gal” in almost all cases), where we run into problems. It boils down to raising the minimum wage and having everyone join a labor union. Perhaps I’m just suspicious by nature, but that sounds like the exact same agenda that she and most Democrats have been pushing for decades without any mention of it having any salutary effect on sexual assault victims. The idea that someone making a couple of extra bucks per hour would be “better able to object” to harassment makes no sense. If our legal system were functioning properly for these types of complaints it would be equally available to people of any income level. And the unions have been around forever. Not only don’t they seem to protect women better in such circumstances, but a number of the big names caught up in these scandals are major union leader from the SEIU.
Rather than using the #MeToo movement as an excuse to advance the Democratic agenda, how about offering women some actual, constructive help? There’s an article in Time this week written by an experienced attorney who has handled many such cases. It advises that workers should always go to the Human Resources department first, but be ready to go to law enforcement if HR seems more interested in protecting the company than your own safety. Smaller companies may not have an HR department so you’ll need to go directly to the police.
Also, if you are experiencing periodic harassment in the workplace, they advise you to keep a journal of times, dates and locations. Talk to friends and family about any such instances as soon as they happen. (Possibly even co-workers if they can be trusted.) Keep a record of those conversations as well because witnesses to your complaints could go a long way in a court case. If and when you do go to HR, make sure that’s fully documented in your notes as well. Don’t allow fear of reprisal to stop you from reporting offenders. Particularly after this national wake-up call, police should be far quicker to respond to legitimate complaints and less willing to shield offenders or refuse to believe victims.
And if your local law enforcement refuses to help, go to the media. They’re actually doing their jobs on this issue. Those are the sorts of solutions which might help women going forward. We’ll need even more solutions than that, but it’s at least a good start. And it’s far better than just telling people to vote for the Fight for 15 or join a union.